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The power of digital journalism

By Greg St. Martin, Posted in news@Northeastern, February 25

Jorge Cara­ballo Cor­dovez is opti­mistic, eager, and moti­vated. He says his native Colombia has reached a turning point after years of armed con­flict, that now there is a crit­ical need to help com­mu­ni­ties back home “recon­struct the social cohe­sive­ness that decades of vio­lence has torn apart.”

And he wants to be part of the solu­tion, har­nessing his aca­d­emic acumen to help put the pieces back together. As Cara­ballo, a grad­uate stu­dent in the School of Jour­nalism, puts it: “I’m con­vinced that jour­nalism and dig­ital tech­nolo­gies can play an essen­tial role in this process.”

Cara­ballo, 27, received a bachelor’s degree in jour­nalism from the Uni­ver­sity of Antio­quia in Medellín, Colombia. In 2014 he earned a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship to pursue a master’s degree in the United States, and Northeastern’s Media Inno­va­tion pro­gram, he says, stood out because of the oppor­tu­nity to acquire the dig­ital sto­ry­telling skills that jour­nal­ists need to suc­ceed in the 21st century.

Now, an exciting new opportunity

Cara­ballo, MA’17, recently received a Google News Lab Fel­low­ship to work this summer at Matter, a San Francisco- based accel­er­ator for media star­tups, where he’ll develop new con­tent for its web­site and social media. He is one of only eight 2016 fel­lows out of an appli­cant pool of more than 1,800 to be selected for the 10- week fel­low­ship, which begins in mid- June and runs through August.

Google News Lab part­ners with sev­eral news orga­ni­za­tions to offer the fel­low­ships, and Cara­ballo applied specif­i­cally to Matter. He says Matter’s mis­sion to help media entre­pre­neurs build “a more informed, con­nected, and empow­ered society” aligns with his goals as a scholar and a sto­ry­teller. He’s also keen on soaking up a wealth of knowl­edge from the cul­ture of media entre­pre­neur­ship in which he’ll be immersed.

Matter invests seed funding and offers a 20- week pro­gram for star­tups that includes a kickoff boot camp, weekly speakers, and monthly reviews, and wraps up with a demo day. During the inter­view process, Matter chal­lenged Cara­ballo to iden­tify a project he would want to pursue there, one that would also fill a need for the com­pany and increase its impact. He sug­gested cre­ating more online con­tent to help entre­pre­neurs under­stand the Matter expe­ri­ence and train them on what they need to know before they apply. This con­tent, which he aptly titled “Resources that Matter,” would include a series of pod­casts about Matter’s mission.

“The freedom to acquire knowledge—that’s the beauty of jour­nalism.”
— Jorge Cara­ballo Cordovez

Building a new skill set

While he’s only in his second semester, Cara­ballo says his North­eastern expe­ri­ence has already pre­pared him well for this fel­low­ship. Through the Media Inno­va­tion pro­gram, he’s com­pleted a course in inter­ac­tive design—in which he learned how to develop a project using design thinking and code basic Web applications—and now he’s taking a course in inter­ac­tive doc­u­men­taries. Cara­ballo is also a writer for Sto­ry­bench, an under- the- hood look at how dig­ital sto­ry­telling is produced.

He’s one of the most for­ward thinking stu­dents to come through,” says Aleszu Bajak, who has seen Caraballo’s work first­hand as the editor of Sto­ry­bench and from teaching the Media Inno­va­tion Studio. He described Cara­ballo as a great observer and lis­tener, and someone who brings an entre­pre­neurial spirit to problem solving and who is omniv­o­rous with his diet of dig­ital media skills.

Jorge Caraballo Cordovez, poses for a portrait on Feb. 23. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Photo by Adam Glanzman/ Northeastern University

In Sep­tember, Cara­ballo wrote a piece for Sto­ry­bench assessing The New York Times’ cov­erage of the refugee crisis in Europe. Not only was he intrigued by the paper’s inter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling, but the sub­ject matter also hit close to home. More than 5.8 mil­lion Colom­bians had been inter­nally dis­placed by con­flict or vio­lence as of December 2014, according to the Office of the United Nations High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.

This topic was very com­pelling to me, and I was inter­ested in how The New York Times’ was telling that story and the tools and strate­gies it used,” says Cara­ballo, who adds that in Colombia he has vol­un­teered to help coor­di­nate cul­tural work­shops for chil­dren in a set­tle­ment of inter­nally dis­placed people in Medellín.

Cara­ballo says his under­grad­uate jour­nalism expe­ri­ence pro­vided a solid foun­da­tion in tra­di­tional journalism—print, radio, and TV—and, in fact, his final project, a series of pro­files of Colom­bian writers, won a 2014 Simon Bolivar Award, Colombia’s national prize in jour­nalism. But he craved the oppor­tu­nity to learn how jour­nal­ists can use dig­ital tools to create pow­erful sto­ries and con­nect with a society that is more con­nected to its mobile devices than ever before.

He’s con­fi­dent that his North­eastern edu­ca­tion, com­bined with the Google News Lab Fel­low­ship expe­ri­ence, will equip him with the dig­ital sto­ry­telling tools and savvy to make an impact when he returns to Colombia after grad­u­a­tion, which is a con­di­tion of his Ful­bright scholarship.

He aspires to create a dig­ital media plat­form that informs, edu­cates, and con­nects the country’s regions through cul­tural journalism.

The freedom to acquire knowledge—that’s the beauty of jour­nalism,” he says.